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Workforce Development, Collaboration and Innovation Dominate Discussions at S.C. Automotive Summit

February 27, 2015

“The South is doing far more to recruit and train for the next generation,” said Laurie Harbour, President and CEO of Harbour Results, in regards to building an automotive workforce. “You guys are setting the foundation”

Harbour’s comments, one of many on the topic of workforce development, came during her presentation outlining industry trends and managing changes in automotive supply chains at the 4th annual S.C. Automotive Summit, held February 23-25 in Greenville, S.C.


The event, which was organized by the South Carolina Automotive Council (SCAC), a division of the South Carolina Manufacturing Association (SCMA), brought together industry leaders from around the world to Upstate South Carolina to discuss topics relevant to every key automotive sector, including manufacturing, engineering, education, government and more.

“The central themes surrounding this year’s summit—workforce development, collaboration between educational centers and manufacturers, growing the automotive industry through innovation and entrepreneurship—are topics that are central to the growth of the global automotive industry,” said Aimee Redick, Business Recruitment Officer at Upstate SC Alliance.

The three-day event kicked off Monday at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), home to the nation’s first PhD program in Automotive Engineering, where summit attendees listened to representatives from Bosch, GM, Michelin, Magna and SC Launch discuss how their organizations are fostering relationships through innovation centers and incubators.

Monday’s sessions also included a preview of commercialization-ready technologies developed by faculty and staff at Clemson University and CU-ICAR, giving attendees a one-of-kind insight into tomorrow’s innovations.

The second day of the Automotive Summit began with S.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt‘s “State of the S.C. Automotive Industry” presentation, which highlighted the recent success of the state, including job growth.

@SCcommerce Secretary Bobby Hitt talks about SC’s #Automotive industry #scauto15pic.twitter.com/iK1xQZ3BS5


“We are staking our claim in the automotive industry by actively recruiting new businesses and supporting existing ones,” said Hitt. “In the past four years, the growth in our manufacturing employment has outpaced all other industries in the region.”

“Any time an automotive part rolls off the line, it comes with a guarantee that we make quality products—products the world wants to buy,” added Hitt.

Hitt’s presentation was followed by Dr. Susan Helper, U.S. Department of Commerce Chief Economist. Helper stressed the importance of collaboration between suppliers and manufacturers, stating, “Today, no one company can win by itself. Success depends on healthy eco-systems.”

Mike Mansuetti, President of Robert Bosch, offered a presentation to showcase how his organization has focused on innovation by building an environment where different departments and teams work together cohesively on new ideas. This provides a culture where employees can, “feel safe to fail,” according to Mansuetti.

“The driver of change is innovation,” Mansuetti explained. “And innovation does not happen in a vacuum.”


The centerpiece of Tuesday’s agenda, and possibly that of the entire summit, was a special appearance by Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of India’s Tata Motors, India’s largest automotive manufacturer. In a special on-stage ceremony, Tata was presented with an honorary Doctorate in Automotive Engineering from Clemson University.

“Mr. Tata epitomizes all that CU-ICAR stands for: international leadership in the advancement of the automotive industry and the fostering of economic development that benefits the local community, state and region,” said Fred Cartwright, executive director of CU-ICAR.

Tata then took part in an exclusive on-stage interview with Automotive News Editor-in-Chief and Automotive Hall of Fame inductee, Keith Crain. During the interview, Tata said that Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Tata Motors, is, “indeed looking at North America as a location for another plant,” but would not speculate further.

(Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Motors, India’s largest automotive manufacturer, participates in exclusive on-stage interview with Automotive NewsEditor-in-Chief, Keith Crain. — Photo courtesy: Craig Mahaffey/Clemson University)

The team from iMAGINE Upstate held a special press conference on Tuesday to outline specific plans for the upcoming week-long STEM showcase, which will include more than 50 tents and six stages as part of a festival in downtown Greenville.

“iMAGINE Upstate is aptly named, as it is aimed at helping children imagine the possibilities available to them by pursuing opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math,” said Christy Thompson, vice president of worldwide marketing at ScanSource, Inc., in a press release. “This will no doubt have a positive effect on Upstate businesses and communities, but most importantly on the students themselves.”

The afternoon sessions began with a thought-provoking panel on best practices for workforce development. Moderated by Sky Foster, Department Manager Corporate Communications for BMW and featuring representatives from Greenville Technical College, Honda of S.C. and the Specialty Equipment Market Association, the panel addressed the challenges and opportunities in attracting a diverse range of students to the automotive industry.

“Collaboration is the key to success,” said Dr. Keith Miller, President of Greenville Tech. “We need to have industry representatives, including manufacturers, in the classroom.”

“There is a new learner and we have to engage  that new learner,” said BMW’s Foster in regards to building the next generation workforce.

“There is no one size fits all. We have to learn to compete. If we don’t learn to compete, we die. We have to keep the practices of new innovation coming in.”

To demonstrate how that collaboration between suppliers and educational centers can take place, Susan Mizelle of Greenville-based Sage Automotive Interiors, offered a presentation on how the company is working with Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher Middle School, whose mission is to foster STEAM-literate graduates, to create hand-on, in-classroom opportunities for students to learn about STEAM careers that interest them.

Tuesday’s sessions wrapped up with presentations from CU-ICAR and Greenville-based Proterra, the first electric bus manufacturer in the U.S., which just secured more than half of the $55 million in grants issued by the Federal Transit Administration.

On Wednesday, Gary Silberg, of KPMG opened the day with the presentation of key findings from the organization’s recent white paper. The presentation focused on how the automotive industry is changing through the convergence of consumer and automotive technologies and the rise of mobility services.

For consumers, “The future will be about you, your car and your life,” stated Silberg.

Harbour’s session on supply chain management followed Silberg. Along with sharing insight into how suppliers need to adapt to a model of production that focuses on volume versus mix, Harbour stressed how the southeastern U.S. has become a leader in workforce development and collaboration.

“In my opinion, you work very hard together,” said Harbour.


That theme continued into the summit’s last presentation, a panel on regional collaboration. The group focused on the implications of Mexico’s recent success in attracting automotive investments and how the southeast region can also compete and share in that growth.

Like others throughout the summit, these panelists drove home the focus on skilled labor.

“Economic development and workforce development have to happen at the same time in order to be successful,” concluded Kim Hill, Director of Sustainability and Economic Development at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

To learn more about the automotive industry in Upstate South Carolina, visit http://www.automotiveinupstatesc.com or contact Business Recruitment Officer, Aimee Redick by email at [email protected]




TOPICS: Automotive